Scandals dampen Daytona

first_imgDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 was supposed to be a celebration of all that’s right with NASCAR – the debut of Toyota and much-heralded rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, and a new format that emphasizes winning. Instead, this version of the Great American Race has been all about a cheating scandal that forced NASCAR to throw six people out of the garage long before today’s race. The crew chiefs for 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler all were kicked out Tuesday, and NASCAR took the unprecedented step of docking the drivers points before the season even started. The next day, the sanctioning body turned its attention to two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, whose Toyota team violated the code of the Nextel Cup garage by tampering with its fuel. It led to indefinite suspensions for two of Waltrip’s top employees and a $100,000 fine – the largest in NASCAR history. It was so embarrassing Waltrip almost packed up his car and left. Instead, Waltrip will make his 21st start in the race. There’s been mixed reaction to his situation, with many rivals believing he got off too easy and should have been suspended. Waltrip still has supporters, though, including two-time series champion Tony Stewart. “Nobody wants him to go away by any means,” Stewart said. “He’ll rebound from all this. I mean, it’s a huge bump in the road … but he’s got a lot of friends in this garage area and I’m sure when it’s all said and done, everything will be fine.” Whoever wins will get an extra five points, just one of the changes this season. The win also will be good for bonuses when the Chase begins. For every victory scored during the “regular-season,” a driver will get a 10-point cushion to be used in seeding the playoff field. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! It’s a drama that generated the mainstream attention NASCAR desperately covets – but for all the wrong reasons. “I think it gave the sport a black eye, (and) we’ve got to recover from that,” driver Joe Nemechek said. “I know this is the most stressful Daytona 500 I’ve ever been in.” center_img That seemed true for almost everyone in the Nextel Cup garage. It was a chaotic Speedweeks, with twists and turns, allegations, bombshell announcements, emotion and apologies. “This week has been mindboggling,” three-time winner Jeff Gordon said. “I’ve been glued to the TV as much as anybody else waiting to see what’s going to happen. Between that and Anna Nicole Smith, I just can’t seem to get myself away from the TV.” The words were barely out of his mouth when Gordon learned the spotlight had shifted to him: The car he drove to victory in a Thursday qualifying race had failed inspection, making him the sixth driver to fall on the wrong side of NASCAR law. But before the label “cheater” could be stitched to Gordon’s name, NASCAR said the problem with his Chevrolet was unintentional and simply stripped him of his starting position – sending him back to the 42nd spot for today’s season-opening race. It was a relative slap on the wrist for the four-time series champion, especially in light of NASCAR’s weeklong crackdown on rule-breakers. last_img

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